Welcome to the age of diminishing returns

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Peak Research:" Italian researchers do it doggy style, in a tunnel


Copy of an announcement in "Nature Jobs," as it appeared yesterday, for a research project managed by the University of Florence. This page has been subsequently removed, but the stain on the reputation of Italian research remains.


This story is doing the rounds in the Italian web. Our Ministry of research (MIUR) had published on their site the translation of the title of a European Research project dedicated to cheese. The cheese they study is called "pecorino" (literally "sheep-cheese") which has a certain assonance with the term used in Italian ("pecorina") for what in English is called "doggy style". Now, some idiot translated it exactly that way: "doggy style"! For a while, that translation was featured also on the "Nature" web site. Later on, it was removed from both pages, but you can still read it for your amusement in the picture above (see also below and here)

All that is on a par with the story of the "neutrino tunnel", also from our ministry of research where, among other idiocies, it was said that neutrinos generated in Switzerland would travel in a tunnel all the way to Italy. You can read about this story here.

This epic fail of MIUR may be a little off topic for the "Cassandra" blog, but perhaps not so much. If nothing else, it shows how rapidly a university system can decay when it is left with no attention and no money. Maybe Italy is on the forefront in the world in terms of decadence, but I am sure that all countries have the same problem: how to sustain their research and university teaching systems with declining resources. It is, in the end, another symptom of the effects of having overexploited our resources. We passed the peak in many areas, we should not be surprised to be seeing also "Peak Research"

Here is also, conserved for posterity, the announcement as it appeared on the Italian ministry of research (MIUR) web site


And also here on the site of the European Commission


 

7 comments:

  1. It could be very funny, if wasn't so sad! The same thing is in Russia. The most stupid website is that of the Ministry of Science and Education. Luckily, they haven't got an English version.
    You are absolutely right, Ugo, that mirrors the general decay of science and education. So we could compete, who falls deeper and faster, Russia or Italy?!

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  2. Yes, it is an amusing story. However, I do not think you can claim any monopoly of stupidity. This competition could get crowded! This is a classic example from the the UK.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7702913.stm

    On your more substantive point that the your university system is rapidly decaying through declining resources, I'm inclined to differ. We can do expensive and energy intensive research (i.e. CERN and the LHC) when we have those resources. When we have less of a resource, we will have to do research on that basis and maybe the fruits of the research will be directed to getting as much as possible out of that declining resource. To quote: necessity is the mother of invention.

    In terms of teaching, the most valuable part of educating students is to get them to think for themselves. It is a change of attitude that is required and not necessarily a decline in resources.

    Mike

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  3. Hi, Tatiana. I don't know about Russia, but here things are not well. I was speaking yesterday to the man who sells office supplies to our department. He says that every time he comes, he sees less people around. I suppose he is in a good position to judge! So, who knows? But, at least, Russia has oil! Italy doesn't.

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    1. Hi Ugo. But oil is our mixed blessing! I believe that Russia will become innovative after we sell the last barrel of oil.
      Our problem is not the lack of financing, but corruption. Its toll is about 30-40% of funds and grants received. So the more recirient pays back to donor, the higher is the probability to get funds. Finally, there isn't competition of brains but bribes.

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    2. In a sense, you are right, Oil is a blessing, but also a malediction. It does bring corruption. But, at least, it gives you a chance to have the resources to do something good. We'll see who fares better in the future.

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  4. Oh, well, Mike, translation is always treacherous, as your example in Gaelic shows! I also made my translation mistakes in life, and of some I am still ashamed!

    About necessity is mother of invention, yes, I agree, but within limits. It is like about eating. If you cut a little, it may be good for your health, too much and you starve!

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  5. Can neutrinos have "entanglement" - and if so, can it be "doggy style"? Maybe that is why they go faster than light?

    Italy has prior precedents for "bottom up" directed research: Galileo Galilei,Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Gerolamo Umberto Volta, Giovanni Battista Grassi, Camillo Golgi and others.

    Peak "top-down" directed research may be now a reality, but that should not stifle the innovativeness and curiosity of humans.

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